By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter
A drawing room, in the Victorian era, was a grand room of the house, as prim as it was proper, used to receive and entertain special guests, all the while adhering to the strictest manners.
A drawing room comedy, however, turns all that on its ear — to the extent where one might as well stick a banana in the ear, for all that manners matter. The prim-and-proper setting only serves as juxtaposition for ridiculously premised, heavy-on-hilarity, sight-gaggy farce. The style is as funny as it is incongruous, and “Leading Ladies,” by Ken Ludwig, presented as dinner theater by the Kenai Performers, does not disappoint.
“It’s the old-fashioned drawing room comedy — men in dresses, I mean, seriously,” said director Terri Zopf-Schoessler. “They are willing to dance in pumps and wear costumes with wings and run around stage in braziers filled with rice. We can’t stop laughing at ourselves. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve directed.”
Two down-on-their-luck British actors are on tour in America and happen to see a newspaper article in which an elderly heiress is looking for the two long-lost offspring of her deceased sister. The actors hatch a plan to present themselves as dear old — emphasis on the old — Aunt Florence’s nephews, only to realize in the nick of plan-B-hatching time that she’s looking for her nieces.
“They have a trunk full of costumes and a tremendous need for a million dollars each, so they decide to go as Maxine and Stephanie, and, of course, fall in love with real girls as they’re dressed as women. So they’re trying to woo real girls and make costume changes and ingratiate themselves to Aunt Florence at the same time,” Zopf-Schoessler said.
To find two such willing performers to tackle the men-seeking-women-while-playing-women parts, she recruited two of her now-graduated drama students from Skyview High School — Jacob Coreson and Daniel Rozak. They now are all grown up, requiring some ingenuity by costumer Chris Cook, who has ended up on a first-name basis with the “very sweet man who answers the drag queens’ costuming website phone,” who shipped a pair of size-18-wide black pumps for Coreson to wear, Zopf-Schoessler said.
But coming up with the costumes is only half the battle. Getting the guys used to wearing them is another matter entirely.
“‘How do you put on these hose? How do you walk in these heels? My back aches from this brazier! And lipstick, how do you get this crap off?’ They have learned a lot of respect for what women go through,” Zopf-Schoessler said.
Selia Butler and Alyeska Krull play the actors’ love interests, and Elan Krull is the dowager aunt. Justin Ruffridge, Robert Peterson and Ray Mabrey round out the cast as Duncan, Doc and Butch.
“It’s a great cast. They have trusted me to do just about anything, and they’re so funny. This is no longer my show — the actors have taken over,” Zopf-Schoessler said.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, June 13, 14, 20 and 21, at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, with dinner by Kenai Catering (vegetarian meals available upon request). Dinner is at 7 p.m., with the show following.
It’s been a true community theater experience, Zopf-Schoessler said, in the “show-must-go-on” vein.
Ruffridge is about to become a parent, necessitating understudy duties by Jonathan Torkleson. Elan Krull just graduated high school, Mabrey is a returning war vet and Rozak is back from Australia but headed next for the Lower 48.
As for Zopf-Schoessler, rehearsals overlapped with her giving and grading finals, turning in grades, packing up her classroom and handing in her keys at Skyview, giving the commencement speech at her daughter’s high school graduation and helping with the after-graduation party, then being evacuated from her home near Kasilof due to the Funny River Fire.
“And the last thing, literally, I threw in my car was my ‘Leading Ladies’ script,” she said. Because I knew, even if I didn’t have a house, I would still be able to rehearse.”
“I have been really lucky. This is the best of community theater. We have an amazing crew here,” she said, including assistant director Donna Shirnberg, costumer Cook, producer Mary Krull, Tana Butler with props, a team effort in building the set, program/ticket designer Rita Eddy and partnerships with Bobbi England at Kenai Catering and Marnie Olcott at the Challenger Center.
Tickets are $45, available at Curtain Call Consignment and Charlotte’s in Kenai, Coffee Roasters on Kalifornsky Beach Road and River City Books in Soldotna.
After this show goes on, auditions for the next Kenai Performers’ offering will commence. Auditions for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” will be held June 27 and 28, to be directed and choreographed by Zopf-Schoessler with musical direction by Audra Faris.
All but three lines of the musical are sung, so strong vocalists are needed — not just people who can carry a tune, but who can keep their pitch while someone next to them sings a different pitch, Zopf-Schoesser said. It would be a particularly good fit for musical families, she said, as she plans to incorporate a children’s chorus along with the teens and adults.
The plan is for vocalists to rehearse during July, with acting and choreography rehearsals to begin in October. Rehearsals will break over Thanksgiving and during December, resume in January, and the show will be staged the last two weekends of February. More information about the date and time of auditions will be available soon.